3 scrappy ways to get your startup’s first customers

Believe me when I say that coming up with a business idea is probably the easiest part of the startup journey. Things get a a lot more difficult when you need to start proving that your idea has traction, and nothing says traction like paying customers!

So how do you get your first customers?

Unless you’ve raised a significant seed funding round and created a sizeable marketing budget, you’ll probably have a small pool of cash to play with so you need to get creative.

Here are 3 scrappy but simple ways you can get your startup’s first customers.

Depending on your industry (mobile, b2b, b2c etc) some tactics will work and some won’t. The idea is to give you food for thought that you can contextualize for your own target customers.

1. Turn customer interviews into sales opportunities

Something I always encourage startups to do in the early stages is to conduct customer interviews, preferably face to face or over the phone.

The aim of these interviews is to get an intimate understanding of the customer problem you’re trying to solve. In the process you also get feedback on your product.

The beauty of customer interviews is that you’re not only validating your product, you’re also running lots of direct sales sessions.

As your interviewees guide you towards building a product that solves their problems it will eventually become clear that they need to buy your product.

At this point you need to ask them outright whether they would pay $xx to use this product. If they have objections don’t be disheartened, raising concerns is a good sign because it shows they have thought through a genuine purchase. Work to resolve those objections and do whatever you can to make them a customer, even if it is a small price discount.

Once you’ve done this with 3 or 4 interviewees, roll it out as a genuine customer acquisition strategy. Sure it’s not super scalable for now but you want to build a base of customers who are evangelical about your product! Scalable marketing can come later.

2. Highly Targeted Traffic + Highly Targeted Landing Pages

Buying ads online through channels like Adwords can be a very expensive game and is not normally something most early stage startups want to get into.

There is however cheap ad inventory out there where you can still get decent traffic and strong ROI.

A great way to do this is by buying ad space on smaller blogs and websites that are relevant to your industry. These blogs don’t usually have the highest traffic in their niche but still get steady visitor numbers and so are keen to monetize. These sites won’t charge an arm and a leg for ad space, and can be negotiated with.

The next step is to create both a highly targeted ad and a highly targeted landing page for that website. By highly targeted I mean you can include messaging in your ad like the blog’s name, and the specific topic that matches the blog post / page it appears on. Your landing page should also link up in a similar manner.

Traffic volume will be lower but click through and conversion rates will be higher because of the tighter targeting. Ensure that your landing page has one strong call to action with either payment capabilities or a form to capture contact details.

Excellent tools for finding these blogs include Followerwonk and MyBlogGuest. You can also refer to this guide for finding influential bloggers in your niche.

3. Find channel partners

At the early stage of any startup you want to find leverage for your marketing. You want to uncover any tactics that can multiply the reach of your messaging. One great way to do this is via partners who share your same target market but aren’t offering a competitive service.

Say for example that you’re a startup building tools to help personal trainers manage clients better. Potential partners for that business could be training institutes that provide qualifications for personal trainers. Another one could be with sports equipment suppliers.

The idea is to create win win situations where partners win by referring customers to you. Winning involves either receiving monetary compensation or introducing your product because it enhances their offering to clients.

To kickstart this process, take out a big piece of butcher’s paper or a whiteboard and start listing out all sorts of potential partner types. Once you have a list of 5 to 10 partner types prioritize 3 to focus on based on potential returns and ease of building a relationship.

From there you should compile a list of around 100 partners for each of the 3 types you’re focusing on. Find contact details for each partner and start hustling for meetings or phone calls to get the conversation going.

Hire a virtual assistant to help with the manual internet research side of things.


So there you have it, 3 really scrappy ways to get your startup’s first customers. At this early stage of your startup don’t focus only on scalable marketing channels. Hustle and find customers any way you can even if it’s not scalable yet.

Getting customers in the door builds momentum and provides a base for you to keep testing and find other more repeatable marketing channels.

What other scrappy marketing ideas do you have?

This is a guest post from Ivan Lim, the head of marketing at Tweaky.com. Ivan is passionate about entrepreneurship, marketing, food and peanut butter. You can find him on twitter.

4 thoughts on “3 scrappy ways to get your startup’s first customers

  1. Great points! The last two points hadn’t really occurred to me. But with the first point, what do you think about comparing it with the Lean Startup model, where instead of interviewing consumers, you allow them to use a very primitive version of your product? It’s been said that consumers don’t really know what they want.

    • Thanks for the comment Josh! I think you can and should use both techniques. Customer interviews are a great way to learn what should or should not be included in a MVP and can help ensure that you don’t waste any time building the wrong MVP. They’re quick and easy and can lead to a sale before you’ve developed anything but you’re right, at some point soon after you will need to build a MVP!


      Rohan Workman
      MAP Manager

  2. Great little article. Very useful for entrepreneurs starting off for the first time. There’s so much theoretical content out there that doesn’t really help anyone. It’s great to see a bit of writing where it’s all about taking action.

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